Equipped to Lead and Succeed

Que Dios Te Bendiga: Lessons in the language, culture, and faith

by Olivia Ceja PMHNP-DNP '22

Growing up in a proud Latin@ family in the East Los Angeles community, I vividly remember leaving both of my abuelas homes and the image of them accompanying me to the front porch and raising their hard-worked wrinkled hands to give me their blessing. “Que Dios te bendiga en tu camino / May God bless you on your way,” they’d say.

I always felt the blessings from their hands are the ones I carry within me now - those of hardworking, strong, and always faithful immigrant mothers hands that made more handmade tortillas than I could count and hands that always found a way to console and comfort my family and me in times of need.

My abuela Olivia Solorio migrated from Michoacan, Mexico, and lived a tough life of poverty and struggle. She, along with my grandfather Eliseo Solorio worked to travel from Tijuana to Los Angeles with all 11 of their children in search of a life of opportunity in the United States. Similarly, my abuela Chavela Ceja learned to make her living by immigrating from Jalisco, Mexico tending to cows, starting a tortilla factory, and working as a seamstress amid tending to her family and my grandfather Marcelino Ceja.

As I grew to understand their stories of struggle, including the alcohol my grandfather Marcelino turned to for respite after a long day of work as a fieldworker and the depression and Alzheimer's that my grandfather Eliseo would come to experience later in life. I realized that my abuelas leaned on their faith as a core aspect of their toolkit to move forward, especially in times when they couldn’t count on anything else. Moreover, being raised by my incredibly large village and community, I began to understand that behind many of their stories of sacrifice and struggle were instances I wish they would have had access, in their native Spanish language, to mental health resources. For my grandparents, faith was such an integral part of their whole health and well-being, in part because, I realize now, that this is what they had access to and what had been passed down from generation to generation.

Beginning my journey at USF in the Masters of Science in Nursing Program, my goal was to find a space and career where I could merge my culture, my formal training, and my bachelor’s degree with the learnings and lessons from those before me, and channel that back to my community. Beginning my journey as a maternity registered nurse, I saw an opportunity to embrace parents and families through childbirth and beyond as my grandmothers did, often giving birth alone, in the home, and without access to medical care. As I completed the master’s degree, I found myself leaning on the blessings of my family to continue school.

Beginning my doctoral journey in the Family Nurse Practitioner program, I continued to see physical health coinciding in many aspects with the whole health and mental well-being of those in my community and among my family. Completing clinical rotations and having the opportunity to work with many Spanish-speaking clients, mothers, adolescents, and individuals often from similar backgrounds as mine, their stories resonated with me. We carry the stories of our ancestors. This led to my doctoral project, which promoted cross-collaboration among providers without prescriptive authority in the company, to expand knowledge of pharmacological support for mental health among providers and patients. While my grandparents may not have had the privilege of a diagnose, treatment, and having to manage their difficult times as adjustment disorders, depression, or anxiety, their experiences often led them back to their faith.

USF’s courses and faculty were instrumental in my professional and individual growth. USF provided an inclusive learning community and the opportunity to learn from my colleagues and their stories. Stemming back to my Cohort 3 family throughout my time in the master’s program at USF’s branch campus in Orange County and alongside the doctoral program colleagues, I always felt I never had to do anything in the program alone. Navigating the doctoral program amid the COVID-19 pandemic, my learning community became one I knew I could count and rely on for strength and support. I gained priceless memories, experiences, and an incredible network of amazing colleagues and professors.

Being the first in my family to hold a doctoral degree and now as a Board Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, I am humbled that I get to continue to promote greater understanding and compassion of the unique challenges that immigrants and immigrant families face just by nature of their experiences that span back generations. While I may not be able to go back to change the worlds and harsh realities my grandparents faced, I do get to continue to make strides as a mental health provider for others. Most importantly, I have the honor of carrying the blessings and lessons in the language, culture, and faith learned and lived by those before me.